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Doug Wright’s dank, dark drama, Quills, earned well deserved accolades when it premiered Off Broadway in 1995 – including a Village Voice Obie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting. Creepy and unnerving – in the ghoulish tradition of France’s late 19th century Theatre of the Grand Guignol – Quills takes an unsparing look at the last loathsome days of Donatien Alphonse Francois Marquis de Sade(1740 – 1814): the Parisian pornographer and obsessive wordsmith, who literally wrote the book on sexual perversion. In fact, the term sadism is derived from Sade’s surname.

Interestingly, New York Times theater critic Vincent Canby, in his original review of the show, framed Quills as a comedy. Though there are more than a few uncomfortable comedic moments in Cal Rep’s latest staging of Wright’s script, few would confuse Director Larissa Paige Kokernot’s interpretation of this grim scenario with comedy.

The Marquis de Sade’s wife, Renee Pelagie (a loquacious and insistent Sarah Underwood Saviano), has come calling upon Dr. Royer-Collard (a convincing Craig Anton) of the Charenton mental asylum – where her husband is incarcerated. She’s not there to urge the release of the Marquis but, instead, to confirm that he should remain in confinement and “be left as carrion for the rodents and worms.” Further, Rene Pelagie wishes to ensure that the institutional authorities put an end to the Marquis incessant habit of documenting, in writing, his heated libidinal forays and fantasies (Jerry Prell is irrepressible and irresistible as the unholy Marquis de Sade).

Rene Pelagie and Dr. Royer-Collard strike an agreement: She, with her formidable fortune (after all, the Marquis wedded Rene because of her great wealth; Rene associated with the Marquis only because of his aristocratic title), will underwrite the hospital’s purchases for new accoutrements – shackles, thumbscrews, and other of the era’s more advanced technologies. In turn, Dr. Royer-Collard guarantees that the Marquis’ literary efforts will be stopped.

Meanwhile, Abbe de Coulmier (a well-suited Robert Prior) – the humane principal of the Charenton institute – views expression and creative catharsis among the inmate population to be therapeutic and rehabilitative. Nevertheless, as the Marquis’ vile verbiage and morbid messages become more and more disturbing with regard to their crude and cruel imagery, the more aggravated and reactionary Abbe de Coulmier and Dr. Royer-Collard become. As they escalate their censoring authority, we begin to consider which is the more horrific, the Marquis’ wordy depictions or the institution’s attempts at suppressing them.

We also get a glimpse of the Marquis’ singular way with women through the relationship Wright details between the Marquis and the young, sensual institutional seamstress Madeleine (an appropriately vivacious Anna Steers).

On a dimly lit (Paige Stanley, lighting design), two-tiered stage – which easily evokes various locales (Michael Chen, scenic design) – we witness six actors portraying eight characters (including Simon Brooke as Monsieur Proix), while delivering a sense of place and period that is eerily authentic.

No doubt, Quills is a clever theatrical achievement, but it is an ugly, untidy dramatic experience. Be warned: Quills leaves hard-to-erase images in the minds of theatergoers. What’s more, Quills requires thinking about issues and idioms that many of us would prefer to avoid.

Finally, be aware, for much of the second act of this two-hour plus presentation, the role of the Marquis is performed in total nudity.  It is a daring and courageous portrayal by this devoted actor (Jerry Prell), but it’s also an adult’s-only show.

Quills, a Cal Rep Production (in association with CSULB), continues – at the Royal Theater aboard the Queen Mary, in Long Beach – through March 10. Show times are Tuesday – Saturday at 8 p.m. For reservations, dial (562) 985 – 5526. For online ticketing and further information, visit

  • Quills is part of Cal State’s campus-wide initiative called “Banned, Blacklisted and Boycotted: Censorship and the Response to It (The B-Word Project).” For more information on this project, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.